Juvenile Injustice

When Ron Carpenter's nanny got busted, his 3-year-old daughter did the time

"I was panicked," Carpenter recalls. "It was either find cheaper day care or not feed my family." He contacted Child Care Dallas, among other places which provide subsidized day care, but was told there was a two-year waiting list. He contacted a program that helps retrain people stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs. But the only thing they offered was training as a pharmacist's assistant, a job Carpenter felt certain he could never get because of his felony conviction. He also contacted the Texas Employment Commission, hoping he could find a better-paying job. But the jobs available paid less than what he was already making. To make matters more desperate, DHS cut off his food stamps nearly two months early, in September.

One day, while he walking to his mailbox, a woman approached Carpenter for a light for her cigarette. They struck up a conversation and Carpenter listened to the woman's tale of woe--how she was unfairly evicted from her apartment and was now living in a motel, but was running out of money. The 43-year-old woman said she suffered from epilepsy and survived on a little more $400 a month in disability.

Her name was Cathy White. They talked on the phone a few times after their initial meeting. Carpenter wondered if she might be interested in caring for his daughter. He could not pay her, but he could provide her a place to live and free food--a desperate idea, but he figured it just might work for both of them.

"I thought it sounded like a good idea," Cathy White told the Observer. "I always wanted a little girl."

White told Carpenter that she had been arrested two years earlier for possession and sale of crack cocaine. "She told me she was on parole and that she wanted to turn her life around. Being a Christian man, I thought I should give her a chance."

Still, before the new arrangement could begin, Carpenter wanted to talk to White's parole officer. Emanuel Ogar, the parole officer, came to Carpenter's apartment one weekend afternoon. He told Carpenter that White was under intensive supervision, which meant she had to report to him at least once every two weeks.

"I told Cathy that I was going to talk to the neighbors and anytime they told me anything negative I was going to write her up for a violation," Ogar told the Observer. "She told me she was going to try her best to take care of the child. I felt badly for the man. I told him he was taking a chance with Cathy. But he was in a desperate situation. I think Cathy was a blessing for him."

For the first month, Cathy White appeared to be the answer to Carpenter's prayers. He liked the idea of Autumn being cared for at home. Autumn was very fond of White and White, in turn, took good care of her. She took her regularly to the park and to McDonald's, often paying for her meals out of her own pocket. She had Autumn bathed and in her pajamas waiting for Carpenter when he got home from work.

Carpenter and White admit they had a brief sexual relationship, which ended by mutual consent. Carpenter also helped Cathy locate her son, who was living with his father in East Texas, and offered to help her regain custody.

Carpenter says White was free to go out most evenings. She often went out for a ride on her 10-speed bicycle. He assumed she was going to 7-Eleven for coffee.

Sometime during one of these evening forays, White's friend, William Hardin, who told the Observer he is an informant for the Garland police, introduced her to two men who were interested in buying drugs. They arranged to meet one evening. They gave White money and she took them to an apartment complex. The two men waited in the car until she returned with drugs.

Instead of arresting her then and there, the men scheduled another rendezvous with White, for during the day. One of the men, Garland police investigator R.D. Burns, says he was shocked when White showed up with a little girl--Autumn Carpenter--in tow.

The drill was the same as last time. White took them to an apartment complex. Autumn waited in the car with undercover police officers, while White went upstairs. After White delivered the crack, the men drove her and the girl home.

Investigator Burns says the police didn't immediately act to protect the child because, "We weren't prepared for it. We weren't sure why the little girl was there. If we arrested White then, she may have tried to fight and the child could have gotten hurt. We wanted to wait until we had a plan."

The plan they devised called for setting up another drug deal a week later. White brought Autumn along again, on a drug buy scheduled for November 9. Again Autumn waited with the undercover police officers in the car. White completed the drug purchase and handed over the goods. At that point, a patrol officer who was standing by, arrested White, and Burns took Autumn into protective custody.

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